Book Review: American Democratic Socialism: History, Politics, Religion, and Theory by Gary Dorrien
Over recent years, American democratic socialism has experienced a remarkable revival. This includes Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s electoral success, but also the transformation of institutions like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) from a 6,000-member organisation with an average age of 68 in the mid-2010s to a 94,915-strong group with an average age of 33 by 2021. But as Gary Dorrien uncovers in American Democratic Socialism: History, Politics, Religion and Theory, this politics has a history that stretches back long before today.
Book Review: Philosophy for Spiders: On the Low Theory of Kathy Acker by McKenzie Wark
McKenzie Wark’s work over the last decade and a half has delved into a remarkably vast array of themes and problems, running the gamut from the politics of forms of communication, to the relevance of early Soviet thought in the Anthropocene, via a series of books on the Situationist International. If there has been a common thread to these studies, it may be Wark’s account of low theory—a compellingly protean articulation of the possibilities for theoretical production from below, beyond the canonisation of High Theory.
Book Review: Doris Derby: A Civil Rights Journey by Doris Derby
Sharecroppers labouring in Mississippi fields. African American women organising cooperatives to support their communities. Members of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Free Southern Theatre, and the potential for theatre to be a catalyst for change. The centrality of Farish Street to Black life in Jackson, Mississippi. Medical clinics. Schools. Liberty House cooperative. Woodstock. Churches. Houses. Murals. Shootings. Funerals. Speeches. Families.
Book Review: The Republican Party and the War on Poverty: 1964-1981 by Mark McLay
In The Republican Party and the War on Poverty, Mark McLay analyses how the Grand Old Party (GOP) responded to Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, and the issue of poverty more broadly, between 1964 and 1981. He considers what Republican opposition to anti-poverty measures reveals about the GOP and wider US politics during this period. In chronological chapters, McLay examines continuity and change in Republican approaches to poverty. He shows persuasively how Republican reactions to the War on Poverty shaped the GOP’s enduring conservative, anti-statist, and racialised responses to poverty, alongside how anti-poverty measures were understood by the wider public, for years and decades to come.
Book Review: Fictive Fathers in the Contemporary American Novel by Debra Shostak
‘Why is it’, Debra Shostak asks at the beginning of Fictive Fathers in the Contemporary American Novel, ‘that so many works of fiction of the last fifty years, especially those centring on relation within middle-class white families, are haunted by the figure of a father who […] fails his family or vanishes in actuality? […] What are the nature and sources of the originary image of paternal security and authority that cause disappointment, disruption, or trauma when an individual father falls short?’ (2). Powered by these questions, Fictive Fathers is centrally concerned with exploring the relationship that fathers have with fictionality. It explores the ‘double meaning embedded in the titular “fictive fathers”’: in one sense about the representation of fathers in recent fictional texts, but also how these texts narrate the ‘fathers for (and by) whom the pervasive construction of traditional white fatherhood in the United States is laid bare as illusory’. For Shostak, ‘this “fictive” fatherhood constitutes a myth, on the social plane, and a fantasy, on the personal plane’ (3).
Book Review: Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare by Kyle Burke
By its very nature, the American New Right was destined to have an ambiguous relationship with the state. A movement fusing Cold War hawks, social conservatives, and economic libertarians, it on the one hand called for handing over considerable amounts of money and authority to the state for ‘national security’ while on the other demanding that same state be severely restricted in its control over any aspect of national life deemed ‘the economy.’ Kyle Burke’s fascinating and illuminating book, Revolutionaries for the Right, proves that this ambiguity went deeper than the mere results of coalition politics – and, in doing so, provides a window onto the origins of the political forces that have increasingly displaced the New Right following the 2016 US presidential election.
Book Review: Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time by Teju Cole
The breadth of Teju Cole’s oeuvre – novelist, essayist, photography critic, and photographer – has led many to describe him as a public intellectual. It’s a label Cole has expressed his discomfort with, in spite of his knack for presenting innovative work through social media, amongst them his Twitter short story Hafiz, and his consistently oblique photographs that knowingly jar with the dominant aesthetic on Instagram. The publication in 2010 of his second novel, Open City, saw him heralded as a major new writer, despite his novel being subtle, ambiguous and, on the surface, largely plotless. He followed Open City with the wider publication of his debut novel, Every Day is For the Thief, previously only published in Nigeria. He has since gone on to publish a collection of essays, Known and Strange Things, and three photobooks: Blind Spot, Fernweh and Golden Apple of the Sun. Black Paper is his second collection of essays.
Book Review: Wallace’s Dialects by Mary Shapiro
Mary Shapiro makes the case for Wallace’s Dialects clearly on the first page: Wallace’s ‘inventive and poetic uses of language have been frequently praised, but little studied from a linguistic point of view’ (1). Shapiro’s book is a welcome addition to the field of Wallace Studies. Positioned as it is, Wallace’s Dialects has two clear distinctions as a monograph. First, this book focuses very notably on Wallace’s texts (both fiction and not) at the micro level, at the level of sentence. Particular word choices, even letter choices, are scrutinised across Wallace’s oeuvre. This is distinct from other monographs that more readily examine the structure of Wallace’s writing at the macro level.[i] Second, and relatedly, this tight focus at the level of sentence means that Wallace’s Dialects operates at the juncture of textual analysis and biography – a way of mediating between the effects of the writing and the conditions of that writing’s composition. This monograph closely reads the language to make conclusions about both texts and author.
Book Review: Dueling Grounds: Revolution and Revelation in the Musical Hamilton ed. by Mary Jo Lodge and Paul R. Laird
Featuring important contributions from scholars and professionals of theatre and performance as well as specialists in musicology, history, and economics, Dueling Grounds: Revolution and Revelation in the Musical Hamilton provides a vast variety of disciplinary perspectives on Hamilton and its wide-ranging deployments of liminality. The show itself has garnered a great deal of acclaim for promoting diversity and inspiring historical education, praise certainly not without warrant. However, the editors and contributors of this topical volume do not shy away from the fact that Hamilton leaves some aspects of eighteenth-century American life either obscured or unaddressed, particularly with regard to issues involving people of colour and women.
Book Review: Understanding Jennifer Egan by Alexander Moran
Understanding Jennifer Egan by Alexander Moran is the first book-length study to provide critical analysis of all of Jennifer Egan’s published fiction to date. Arriving in the same year as Ivan Krielkamp’s A Visit from the Goon Squad REREAD,[i] the rising critical attention to Egan’s work is a welcome sight, correcting the tendency to overlook Egan’s constant and significant presence in contemporary fiction.